Pictures and Word on Those Pictures
‘Your body is a battleground’, is an illustrious art work made by Barbara Kruger in the wake of 1989’s pro-choice march for women rights that took place in Washington D.C. Barbara Kruger is a conceptual artist, a feminist, a socio-political critic, a radical and a postmodern well-known for her atypical depiction of political and social dissent. Born in New Jersey, America in 1945, she attended School of Visual Arts, Syracuse University and later on studied art and design at Parsons School of Design in New York. She did various jobs of graphical designer, picture editor, head designer, and art director in the art departments of multiple magazines and publications. This experience in design is subsequently manifested in her work of international stature. The diverse topics of her art works include feminism, consumerism, racism, capitalism, war and the state itself. She has targeted intolerance, prejudice, unfairness and bigotry in its various forms that is pertinent to the societal norms of the radical world.
In early 1980s, she was among those artists who realized and criticized the political and social stereotypes that were propagated by popular media ranging from advertisement, magazines to movies. She recognized herself as one of those who confronted with the multiple hypocrisies and oppressions of the corporate world, which is exceedingly, in her opinion, male dominant. Thus, she has been persistently challenging the presumably male-dominated art establishment. According to Kruger, woman became a commodity who is constantly being oppressed and exploited; and this idea is portrayed recurrently and consistently in a range of her artwork of last two decades.
Much of her works involve juxtaposing the image with an overly antagonistic textual reference that instantly captures the viewer’s attention. By producing an art of imagery and words created on the dialect of mass communication, her work attracts masses as well as informs them. In doing so, she has made tremendous progression in bridging the gap between art and design. Not only her work is being showed around galleries and museums, it has also become popular and witnessed among public parks, t-shirts, billboards, posters shopping malls and other public places.
The use of personal pronouns ‘I’, ‘you’ or ‘we’ are abundant in her work, and by using this method, she engages her viewer in a dialogue. These personal pronouns also turned out to be helpful in achieving great attention by her viewers as she gets them involved and engrossed in her artwork. Kruger has a leftist slant, but being a feminist and a pro-choice do not essentially make her a leftist. In fact, regarding this matter not only her work on feminism but also her blatant political and social works should also be considered as well.
The art piece under discussion was originally created in 1989 as a political poster in the support of a US Supreme Court Decision of 1973, in Roe vs. Wade case, a verdict that legalized the abortion of child. Roe vs. Wade case was perceptibly a historical decision and it provoked a heated debate at national level, which continues even today, about various matters including who will decide the validity of abortion, to what extent the abortion is considered as legal, and what is the role of moral and religious stances in the subject matter and in the political arena. Owing to this case, much of the United States masses were divided into two camps of pro-life and pro-choice, while triggering several movements on both sides. Consequently, Bush administration tried to turn over the Roe vs. Wade verdict of Supreme Court in April 1989. To oppose this attempt, a pro-choice march was conducted and the Kruger’s poster was used to promote it. The poster carried a text, which reiterated the political slogan used by the protestors of Vietnam War during 1960s, i.e. “Your body is a battleground”. In addition, the poster also carried the following words at the bottom: ‘support birth control/legal abortion/ and women’s rights’.
Some of Kruger’s most memorable art pieces that also became instantly identifiable slogans consisted of black and white images along with a un-neglect able white-on-red Futura text having incisive meanings. Kruger’s text collection addresses us in much the same way the advertisers influence a consumer to buy a commodity. ‘Your body is a battleground’ is a selection from one of many such art works. It consists of an image of woman's face, perhaps in her early thirties or late twenties. The makeup and hair reflect that of 1950s style. Obviously attractive, her gaze is directed making an eye-contact with the viewer. The image has been cropped and thus cutting the top of her head. Most notable and astounding is the fact that the woman’s face is exactly divided into two halves: representing a positive and a negative side of an individual.
Since the art piece was originally created in the support of a women’s rights march, therefore conforming to its reason of origination, the face of woman is giving an idea of struggle. The text is overlaid on the image, ‘Your body’ was written at the top, ‘is a’ was written in the middle and ‘battleground’ was written on the bottom. The term ‘Your body’ is clearly addressing the women, and by using the term ‘battleground’, Kruger is evidently implicating the Bush administration, and additionally, the traditionalist and conservative agenda The text is written in block letters in white colour on a red background. It speaks about the array of social and political standpoints. It highlights the ideas of ‘good versus bad’ and ‘positive versus negative. The way text is written is giving an idea that how the female body become a reason of dispute between men and women. The bold text and the red framing of the image are providing us the feelings of advertisement and commodity.
The ideas of power are often reflected in Kruger’s work. According to the book ‘Love for Sale’, in which this art work was later published in 1990, the writer described that the power cannot be centralized and it should be rather decentralized and diffused. It should exist less as a centralized ‘body’ and more as a group that is bringing together the social machinery and institutions (Kruger, 1990 27). As power in its nature penetrates through all the features of society, women are compelled to guard themselves and their existence in society. The text ‘Your body is battleground’ therefore refers to this continuous struggle in which the women are taking part. This struggle or ‘battle’ over a ‘body’ of woman is referenced to the rights of woman to select what should happen to her own body and this struggle profoundly revolves around the power and its structure. There is a constants fight between women and men on the same piece of real estate – i.e. the woman’s body. The mass-media of corporate world has created a false visualization of women as they are portrayed as an object of entertainment. Women fight to have their role in society and to have power over their own physical bodies, while men try to keep their supremacy over women (K. Calla 156). Kruger has attributed this to account of consumerism because everything in American culture can be purchased, sold or owned be it an object or a living being. Thus, this philosophy expands to relationships amongst individual resulting in a battle over power and control.
British author John Berger has written in his book “Ways of Seeing” how Kruger’s work has discovered its inspiration from (Berger, 2003, 38). In his words, men see at women and women find themselves to be looked at. The gaze of men has changed women into objects and commodities that are not allowed to think for themselves. Women thinking, attitudes, and behaviours originate from the invariable judgments of men and as a result, they are forced to get approval from men. Kruger’s work aims at challenging these issues by representing the woman face in confrontation with the eyes of the viewer. The woman’s eye directly looks at the viewer in defiance. In this art work, Kruger expresses how a female head is facing the viewer’s gaze in parallel and in doing so, she is making a point that how the power of gaze is preventing a true liberation of a woman and how a woman can confront with that opposition. The art piece depicts notions of stereotyping, power, consumption and patriarchy.
Apparently oriented to feminism, this art piece also looks into how the sex difference is reinforced by using media representation of women. Conventionally, women are only portrayed in movies and advertisements as an object of desire for the male viewer. Kruger’s gave this art additional meaning by symmetrically dividing the image in two sections. She criticizes the objectified rule of symmetry relevant in modern era to female beauty. She represents the personal fight of women against societal norms and its rule on their bodies that how their bodies actually look alike (the positive half of image) and how it is looked in the present day corporate world (negative half of the image). It also reflects that how women care about their appearances more than accepting themselves what they actually are. They fight mistakenly with their natural body to obey the rules of the fake standards of society that dictates the way they should look and think about their own bodies (K. Calla 156).
This art piece is a word of warning and disapproval, a cry to oppose and refuse the way corridors of power controls the personality of a woman. This art piece also demands to awaken people from a troubled sleep: reflecting the strong message that we must realize that we are not the masters of our own fate, and we should be. We are the objects to be turned on and off by the ruthless seductions of remote control kept by the authority. Even though Kruger does not produce art, visuals or imagery that endorse mass-market usage or consumerism or corporate world, she demonstrates the range of activist artists who, since the nineteenth century, have utilized the means of mass media to challenge the myths carried on by the powerful (Rutherford P 256). A lot of Kruger’s art-work has also spotlighted the problems that are less focused on feminism, but direct the viewer’s attention to the national or global politics. The underlying message, however, was the same whacking of authoritarian rule trying to surrender the tyrant class of society.
Kruger’s work is admired largely by her followers and significantly anticipated by the contemporary artists. Her aesthetics and visual aptitude is among the most distinguishable along with the likes of Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons. Moreover, as a thriving artist in both the art arena and commercials, she continues to influence and persuade many artists who grapple to make the same impact.
According to a contemporary artist, Steven Heller, Kruger has used graphical design vocabulary to influence the graphical designers as well (Steven Heller, 2). May be because of the fact the Kruger has completely ignored the boundaries between art and design in her vision to make the art that surpass the narrowness of the art world, she has possibly contributed more to the current advertising and graphical design dialect than what have been done by many trend setting designers. Her art, which is her message to the masses, and her bold eloquent typography, which is her style to convey her message, have become a rule for all those graphical designers who refuse to accept the late eighties trend towards too much, attractive layering that eliminate content.
Kruger’s work has also inspired designers to utilize their expertise in creating messages of political or social significance. At the present, when so many graphical designers are trying to look for a balance between their commercial work and the social liability, Kruger’s work has become a perfect model, which approves that the graphical design is an equally affective mean to represent good and ill. At a time when designing is considered as medium through which various myths and false realities are communicated to the public, Barbara Kruger has enabled herself to set her own standards. By utilizing the methods of mass media to criticize the mass media itself, she has proved that the public can be conditioned by using design along with art to tell them the truth.
An apparent connection between Kruger’s art pieces is observed in the work of Guerella Girls, Lornna Simpson and Shephhard Fairey, in the course of their utilization of text and image, as well as societal critique. Her wide selection of topics, from her early graphical work to magazine covers, t-shirts and billboard designs, has made it certain that she has influenced and will continue to affect and shape the minds of artists and non-artists alike.
Berger, J. "Ways of Seeing." The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader 38. Ed.
Amelia Jones. New York: Rutledge. 2003.
Kruger, B. “Love for Sale”. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. p. 127 .1990.
K. Calak. “Barbara Kruger, Your Body is a battleground”, Women's Studies Program 156. Online.Web. April 21 2013 http://concept.typepad.com/historyofdesign/heller.pdf
Rutherford P. "Endless Propaganda: The Advertising of Public Goods" University of Toronto Press, Ed (1). 2000.
Steven Heller, "Barbara Kruger, Graphic Designer?” Online. Web. April 21 2013